Uncensored Instagrams From North Korea buck Brutal Trend of Secrecy

Uncensored Instagrams From North Korea Buck Brutal Trend of Secrecy

Updated by Endah

Uncensored Instagrams From North Korea buck Brutal Trend of Secrecy

By Biz Carson
  • 6:30 AM
When Associated Press photographer David Guttenfelder first went to North Korea in 2000, he was plunged into the dark—he had to leave his phone at customs, and his hotel windows were covered with black plastic. But over time, the most restrictive country in the world has loosened up, at least for some. In January it allowed foreigners to carry phones; in February it activated a 3G network for visitors. As the AP’s chief photographer for Asia, Guttenfelder now sends out images from the Pyongyang bureau and posts daily to Instagram. In a country without the Internet, a reporter with social media is king, so we asked Guttenfelder for his report from inside:

I was the mayor of the Koryo Hotel in Pyongyang on Foursquare until a week ago. And if you’re seeing restaurant check-ins in the capital, my AP colleague and I probably left them. In a country known for its censorship, I’m now uploading photos to Instagram from the streets of North Korea like I would anywhere else in the world.

Through social media, I’m trying to piece together a picture of this country for the outside world, whether it’s a still of an apartment building with an empty playground, a geo-tag for Juche Tower on Foursquare, or a video of a woman ringing up restaurant receipts with propaganda blaring behind her.
No one puts their hand in front of my camera, and no one tells me not to shoot things. There’s no review process. They don’t look at my pictures at all before I send them on the Associated Press wire or my Instagram account. Facebook even asks me to tag my “friends” Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung when I upload my photos.

Until a few months ago, the Google map of North Korea was a blank slate. Now I’m like an explorer, charting the country with my check-ins and photos. The first time I tried to tag a picture on Instagram, there were no preset locations. Now we’re making those too. I’m doing it because I want the geolocators for Instagram, but I’m also doing it in the spirit of an explorer or a mapmaker.